Union

Union captain Alejandro Bedoya eager for Sunday opener at Vancouver

Union captain Alejandro Bedoya eager for Sunday opener at Vancouver

CHESTER, Pa. -- When Alejandro Bedoya came to Philadelphia last summer, it was a landmark moment in the Union’s relatively short history. 

But as with any player who arrives from Europe midway through the MLS season, there were some difficulties for Bedoya as he got settled with a new club and a new league. 

Now though, as the U.S. national team stalwart prepares to enter his first full MLS season as the team’s unquestioned leader and captain, there’s nothing holding him back.

“It’s starting to feel finally like home,” Bedoya said. “Philly’s starting to feel like a true home.” 

Bedoya certainly showcased some of his considerable skills last season after arriving from France’s FC Nantes, starting the final 10 games of the season and scoring one of the best goals of Philly’s 2016 season.

But the team never gained much traction with him in the midfield, going winless in their final eight games and getting bounced from the playoffs in the first round by eventual MLS Cup finalist Toronto FC.

For Bedoya, going through an offseason that allowed him and his family to get settled in Philadelphia and a full preseason that allowed him to show his personality to his new teammates was critical.

“I’m taking a more proactive approach,” Bedoya said. “Guys have been able to see what I’m all about. I hope I can bring my experience and my characteristics to make the team better. 

“It’s a good group of guys, to be honest. I’m really excited.”

Union head coach Jim Curtin announced Wednesday that Bedoya would wear the captain’s armband for the team’s 2017 opener at the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday -- a role he earned by taking on a leadership role during the past month in preseason camp in Florida.

Brian Carroll and Maurice Edu have been the team’s captain for much of the past two seasons but Edu is still recovering from an injury that kept him out of the entire 2016 campaign and the aging Carroll may struggle to find regular minutes.

For now, at least, this team belongs to Bedoya.

“He’s been a great leader all preseason,” Curtin said. “He’s been a player that’s played at the highest level internationally for the national team, for big clubs in Europe. He’s always been a really strong contributor. Now, the challenge he’s really stepped up to meet is to become more of the guy that everyone looks to for leadership. He’s embraced that role.”

Curtin hasn’t said exactly where Bedoya will play, but most signs indicate that he’ll be deployed as an attacking midfielder in front of string-pulling playmaker Haris Medunjanin -- a new addition to the club that, like Bedoya, boasts experience at both the World Cup and in Europe.

It’s a combination that the Union coach is very high on leading into the opener.

“I think it’s clear Ale and Haris have a real understanding for each other, a real respect for each other,” Curtin said. “They’re internationals that have played at the highest level at big clubs. Their experience speaks for itself. 

“They’re our leaders. They’re the guys who have been through the wars. This will be a tough game on the road in a hostile environment. The easiest way to put it is they’re two of our best players. And you always need your best players on the same page.”

Bedoya roomed with Medunjanin during the preseason, which helped the two get on the same page. Now, they’re ready to show it off in 2017 and control the middle of the field together for a team gunning to return to the postseason -- and win the club’s first-ever playoff game once they get there.

“I love playing with Haris,” Bedoya said. “Soccer sees soccer. We understand each other very well right away. He had a great experience in Europe. He has a great left foot, great vision, great passing range. We’re definitely comfortable finding each other.”

As for being the captain, Bedoya isn’t about to step on the toes of Carroll, the team’s longest-tenured player, or Edu, one of his best friends, who he’s eager to finally play with for the first time.

But he’s certainly ready to wear the armband whenever called upon and become a leader of a team he only got to know briefly last year.

“I like to lead by example,” Bedoya said. “And guys know they can feed off my energy.”

Union-Orlando City thoughts: Aiming to end season, Brian Carroll's career with a win

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Union-Orlando City thoughts: Aiming to end season, Brian Carroll's career with a win

Orlando City (10-13-9) at Union (15-10-7)
4:00 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia+

After 33 games, the 2017 season finale is here as the Union return to Talen Energy Stadium for the last time on Sunday to host Orlando City. And although the match is relatively pointless for the two woeful clubs, both teams want to end with a win.

Here are some thoughts on the game:

•At this point, it’s all about pride. Coming off a horrendous regular season that includes just one road victory, a nine-game losing run to begin the campaign and no All-Stars, the Union want to bury their awful season with a win.

“It was a disappointing season,” said Union goalkeeper Andre Blake. “The aim right now is to finish the season on a high note at home. We want to give the fans something to cheer for.”

•With a win, the Union can finish the season with 42 points. That would match last year’s output, which was good enough for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Union are eight points out of the postseason prior to Sunday’s match.

•Brian Carroll will say goodbye to the Union and professional soccer on Sunday after announcing his retirement. The 15-year veteran, who played seven of those with the Union, will get on the field against Orlando City for one final run. Next up for the Virginia native? He’s moving to Indianapolis to begin a new career as a financial planner (see story). 

“There’s always a job here with the Philadelphia Union if he wants one,” Jim Curtin said.

•The quiet Carroll, who, at 36, hasn’t played a minute of MLS action this season, ends his career (not including Sunday’s match) fourth all-time in MLS with 370 appearances and sixth all-time in minutes played at 30,778. He’s won two MLS titles and four Supporters’ Shields.

He’s second on the Union’s franchise list for games played at 165, behind only Sebastien Le Toux. But Carroll owns the minutes played title at 13,818. Although it may not have shown through his quiet demeanor, he’s been a really good player for a long time.

•Though it’s the Union’s final match of the season, the club won’t dip into the youth pool. Curtin’s belief is that players who contributed minutes with the Steel throughout 2017 deserved to dress for the USL club’s first playoff game on the road against the Louisville City FC on Friday night.

If Curtin would have known the Steel would have been crushed, 4-0, things might have changed. Adam Najem, Derrick Jones and Auston Trusty made the start.

•One player who didn’t suit up for Steel but also won’t dress for the Union on Sunday is right back Keegan Rosenberry. Coming off a year in which he played every minute of the regular season and earned Rookie of the Year runner-up honors, Rosenberry was suspended by the Union for using social media to gripe about playing time.

The real issue was the timing. A subtle post, in which Rosenberry asked fans to caption an image of him on the bench with a disgusted look, came just hours prior to the Union’s match against the Chicago Fire last weekend. Curtin called it, “unprofessional” and “inappropriate.” Rosenberry ends his season with just 14 games played.

•Curtin and the Union can’t take much from the first time they saw Orlando City, a 2-1 loss on March 18. Cyle Larin, who probably won’t play for his team on Sunday, scored twice for Orlando, sandwiching a lone C.J. Sapong score. 

“That feels like forever ago,” said Curtin, whose club is 2-2-2 against Orlando City all time. “Both of our seasons have shifted, there’s been highs and lows.”

•As usual, Fabian Herbers, Maurice Edu, Josh Yaro and Ken Tribbett are out for Sunday. Right-winger Chris Pontius is questionable with an abdominal injury, which could open space for rookie Marcus Epps to earn significant playing time.

•If Orlando wants to take down the Union, it’ll have to do it without Kaka. It was announced by Orlando City that the legend, who isn’t renewing his contract, would not travel for the finale. So, if you wanted to see Kaka, you’ll have to go to Europe. 

•It may be meaningless for the Union and Orlando, but Sunday marks Decision Day around MLS, in which all 11 games are played at 4:00 p.m. In the Eastern Conference, four teams (New York City FC, Atlanta United, Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew) are eying a Knockout Round bye.

Humble and unassuming, Union's Brian Carroll retiring as 'pioneer for the game in this country'

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USA Today Images

Humble and unassuming, Union's Brian Carroll retiring as 'pioneer for the game in this country'

CHESTER, Pa. — It’s almost too fitting that Brian Carroll has decided to become a financial planner in Indianapolis.

For the retiring Union midfielder (see story), it’s a perfectly unassuming job for a perfectly unassuming guy. Someone who, without shin guards and cleats, always looked more like a business manager than a pro athlete anyway. An underappreciated, underrated, never-flashy player who was damn good at soccer and leaves the sport as a “pioneer for the game in this country,” according to Union head coach Jim Curtin.

“Having the opportunity to coach him here in Philadelphia, being around him, to work with him, it’s been a real honor for me,” Curtin said Thursday. “Once you reflect back on his career, the trophies that he’s won, the caps he’s received for the U.S. national team — he’s a true professional, a guy who always played the game with a smile on his face but also was kind of a quiet killer on the field.”

Carroll’s pedigree certainly is impressive. Two-time MLS Cup champion. Four straight Supporters’ Shields. Nine straight playoff appearances. Fourth-most MLS appearances in league history. Sixth-most minutes.

But when you stack him up against some other guys on the all-time leaderboard of games played (Kyle Beckerman, Brad Davis, Steve Ralston, even his brother-in-law Chad Marshall), it’s fair to say he doesn’t get the same kind of national recognition. What gives?

“Because he goes about his business in such a quiet way, he isn’t a guy who is loud on the field or loud in the locker room, he’s just a lead-by-example kind of guy, and often those guys don’t get a whole lot of credit,” Curtin said. “[But] he’s a guy who anybody speaks about him in the game has nothing but positive things to say. Everybody has a Brian Carroll story, and they’re all positive. There are not a lot of guys that end their career with that — with not one person that you would ever meet that would say a negative thing about them. He’s been a guy who’s gone about his business the right way — an example of so many young players to learn from in our country.”

Even if he might not always get league-wide attention, anyone who ever played with Carroll certainly knows what he’s all about. Five years ago, then-Union teammate Danny Califf said he was “one of the most underrated guys in the league, and he has been for a long time,” before adding: “He’s happy to sit back and be in the playoffs and win championships — and let everyone else talk about the other guys that don’t.” Two years later, when Carroll was the team’s captain, Amobi Okugo revealed that everyone called him “The Iron Man.” 

But for Carroll, always a picture of humility, none of that stuff ever really mattered. And if he did fly under the radar, that's just fine with him, too.

“I think I have some athletic ability, thank goodness, but I’m not the fastest, the tallest or the strongest,” said Carroll, who remarkably was never shown a red card in any of the 370 games he played. “What I brought was consistency, work ethic and fulfilling my role to the best of my ability and me doing that enabled other guys to fulfill their roles and succeed at their roles. I’m happy and thankful that I was able to lead my team to some trophies, whether it be Supporters’ Shield or MLS Cup.”

It’s a testament to his work ethic that the 36-year-old defensive midfielder continued to play at a high level as recently as last season. And although his playing time completely dried up this year, he holds no ill will toward the Union about that. If anything, he’s enjoyed the chance to step into a new role that’s involved coaching up his younger teammates at practice.

“I knew coming in these past couple of years my role was gonna change and be more supportive, still helping to lead,” he said. “One thing leads to another last year and I was a little bit more involved than what was planned. Then this year, it just kind of went according to plan — supporting the guys and helping them out in any way I can.”

Because of how he filled that role, many people speculated that he would transition directly into coaching or into a front office job. But while Carroll said he explored that path, he said the best thing for him to do with his family right now is to move to Indianapolis, where his wife is from.  

Of course, that could always change.

“There’s always a job here with the Philadelphia Union if he wants one,” Curtin said. “I know he’s moving into the financial world. I’m hoping he’s not sitting in a cubicle but if he is sitting in a cubicle, the door’s always open to come back here on the field to be a coach because he has so much more to give.”

He still has a little more to give as a player, too. Although he hasn’t played all season, Curtin said Carroll will likely play in Sunday’s 2017 finale vs. Orlando City SC — for his 371st and final MLS appearance.

“I think it’s important for him to get on the field, so we will find a way to make that happen,” Curtin said. “I kind of half-joked about starting him and seeing how long he could possibly last being out a lot this year. But he’s been sharp in training the past couple of weeks, so it’s great. 

“He’s an experienced guy, so no matter where you put him on the field, he deserves for our fans to give him a proper send-off. And I know they will.”